International air travel is not as easy as it used to be. Threats of terrorism have prompted tighter security checks and regulations, identity thieves have forced the Transportation Safety Administration to require fraud-proof travel documents, and customs officials have stepped up inspections of goods imported into the U.S. If you’re a first time traveler headed to an international destination, follow these helpful travel tips step-by-step to help streamline your experience. After all, the only difficult part about international travel should be the long flights or the jetlag.
If you’re taking an international trip, your passport is one of the most important things to bring, next to your boarding pass, phone, and credit card. Since 2007, the State Department has required all legal U.S. citizens traveling to any foreign country to have a valid passport. This essential document includes proof of name, date of birth, nationality, and a standard photo for international identification. Newer passports contain a microchip with scannable information as well. Department of Homeland Security personnel will stamp the pages of the passport booklet at their kiosk during the check-in process, so double check your carry-on bag just in case so that you don’t leave home without it.
Security screenings are strictly enforced in all U.S. airports, even for travelers who skip part of the security line with TSA PreCheck. Passengers on international flights might receive an extra dose of scrutiny than passengers on domestic flights. After you go to the check-in counter, your checked bag will be screened separately from the rest of the security screening.
Regardless of the destination country, all international travelers go through a metal detector or a full-body scanner. Your carry-on bag will pass through an X-ray machine to detect banned objects, such as weapons or hazardous substances. TSA regulations also prohibit any liquids, gels or aerosols over three ounces in your carry-on luggage. All of your toiletries must fit inside a quart-size plastic bag and be screened separately from the rest of your baggage. You must dump out any water from your water bottle before entering the checkpoint.
When you return to the U.S. from abroad, you will complete a customs declaration form before leaving your plane and entering the customs area at the airport. Usually, a flight attendant will distribute the forms to passengers just before landing at your destination. The U.S. imposes taxes, known as duties, on some items purchased abroad, such as alcohol and tobacco products. You must declare these items on your customs form or risk paying a fine.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture bans passengers from bringing some plants, animals and animal products into the U.S. from abroad. The measures are meant to protect native species and livestock from diseases and invasive pests. If you pick up any fruits, vegetables, meats or other food products from overseas, it’s a good idea to declare them on your customs form. The USDA also prohibits importation of soil, live animals, shells, sand, and biological materials without a permit. If you plan to import these items, avoid any hassle by obtaining the right permit before your departure time.